A meta-analysis of fMRI studies on Chinese orthographic, phonological, and semantic processing

Neuroimage. 2012 Oct 15;63(1):381-91. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.047. Epub 2012 Jul 1.


A growing body of neuroimaging evidence has shown that Chinese character processing recruits differential activation from alphabetic languages due to its unique linguistic features. As more investigations on Chinese character processing have recently become available, we applied a meta-analytic approach to summarize previous findings and examined the neural networks for orthographic, phonological, and semantic processing of Chinese characters independently. The activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method was used to analyze eight studies in the orthographic task category, eleven in the phonological and fifteen in the semantic task categories. Converging activation among three language-processing components was found in the left middle frontal gyrus, the left superior parietal lobule and the left mid-fusiform gyrus, suggesting a common sub-network underlying the character recognition process regardless of the task nature. With increasing task demands, the left inferior parietal lobule and the right superior temporal gyrus were specialized for phonological processing, while the left middle temporal gyrus was involved in semantic processing. Functional dissociation was identified in the left inferior frontal gyrus, with the posterior dorsal part for phonological processing and the anterior ventral part for semantic processing. Moreover, bilateral involvement of the ventral occipito-temporal regions was found for both phonological and semantic processing. The results provide better understanding of the neural networks underlying Chinese orthographic, phonological, and semantic processing, and consolidate the findings of additional recruitment of the left middle frontal gyrus and the right fusiform gyrus for Chinese character processing as compared with the universal language network that has been based on alphabetic languages.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • China / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics*
  • Young Adult